Month – May 2014

Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders Matchday

Today the Seattle Sounders take on Real Salt Lake in a battle of league supremacy. Of course the MLS schedule makers botched this one by scheduling these two titans during the World Cup event horizon. Both teams will be without some stars. Seattle will be missing Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin to call-ups, Djimi Traore to injury and maybe Chad Marshall and Lamar Neagle as well. Salt Lake lost Alvaro Saborio (both called-up AND injured), Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando to call-ups, and maybe Joao Plata to injury. But both teams are deep and proud and aren’t looking for excuses.

I am looking for the real Seattle Sounders to step up against Real Salt Lake. So far, we’ve been slightly schizophrenic. After a bumpy beginning, the Sounders threw a win party. They went on a six-game unbeaten streak while scoring 17 goals. But in our last three games we’ve underwhelmed. We are now missing the aforementioned players, but that happens. No team in any sport in any era plays every game with their ideal starters. We are a team. The Sounders, not the Seattle Clint Dempseys, and this team should’ve buried a JV San Jose squad. Then we needed a gift of a penalty to draw with Vancouver (both of whose goals were arguably of our own creation). Let’s hope to get back on track against the Claret and Cobalt.

Bold Prediction: I honestly have no idea. We could win, lose or draw and I wouldn’t be surprised. My record as Nostradamus has been sizzling lately (called the loss at the Revs, the win against SJ and the 2-2 draw at the Caps) and I risk jeopardizing my clairvoyant reputation here. But since it is my sacred responsibility as a sports blogger to put my ideas on the line, so…

The good money is on a draw. RSL doesn’t lose and the Sounders often win. Both teams are not 100%, but I’d argue RSL has the shorter end of that stick. They are still formidable opponent though. HOWEVER I am calling a Sounders win, 2-1. RSL is crafty with Javier Morales and they take advantage of our haphazard backline to score first. We equalize somehow (Oba maybe), but sports is all about confidence and swagger. Captain Brad Evans plays lights out and scores the winner.

Seattle Sounders: Oathkeepers?

The Seattle Sounders square off against Real Salt Lake this weekend, as both teams hope to prove their dominance. I apologize to all my dedicated fans for not posting yesterday. The end of the quarter gets busy for adjunct instructors. You’re not here for mea culpas but idiosyncratic Sounders ravings, so without further ado:

It is the best of Sounders, it is the worst of Sounders (apologies to Mr. Dickens). The Seattle Sounders have been an offensive powerhouse this season, scoring 25 goals and winning 8 of their first 13 games. The Sounders play the swisscheese defense, allowing 21 goals. Somewhere at the mesh point of these two truths is Seattle’s potential.

Potential is not perception. The Sounders are not perceived to be the best team in the league. It’s not curious that despite sitting atop the league table no national soccer writer has Seattle at #1 in any power rankings. Most writers have unbeaten Real Salt Lake, this weekend’s opponent, as the top team. Yes, power rankings are inane, but the perception is what matters to fans. Silverware matters at the end of the year (and for all time), but you want to enjoy the ride during the season. You want to feel confidant and brag to your poor friends who doomed themselves to Timber fandom. Perception gives that permission. The Sounders are off to their best start ever. They’ve lead the Supporter’s Shield race for almost two months. But it is still May. November is what matters. How good will the 2014 Seattle Sounders be?

I think most Seattle fans are confidant we make the playoffs. The optimists see the Supporters’ Shield and a CCL ticket. Currently, we are 8-3-2, that projects to over 20 wins with only single digit losses. I’m not afraid to admit it: this season looks like Seattle’s best chance to win it all. We need to, this city hungers for victory and vindication. The roster is stacked. Dempsey is in his prime. We have a developing superstar in DeAndre Yedlin. The quality of players we currently roster is financially unsustainability. But how many of us really think this is the year we win smash through the playoffs and win MLS cup?

Seattle does not win in the playoffs. Seattle rarely wins home-and-home aggregate derbies, losing such fixtures four times in the MLS playoffs and twice in CCL play. Most of our epic meltdowns happen in these pressure cooker aggregate series: Santos Laguna, LA Galaxy, RSL, even Portland last year. The Sounders do well in one-offs such as the USOC, the CCL Group Stage and last year’s knockout round with Colorado. The aggregate score is a team bugaboo. I hate to say it, but maybe we need to learn a lesson from Portland. We need to find a way to keep our cool and win in the postseason.

What makes Sounders team’s chances different from postseason’s past? Dempsey in bloom? Our run-through-walls team chemistry? I know many scoff at the notion of character or grit but they’re passionless analytical geeks. As Wordsworth says “we murder to dissect” and analytics neuter the soul of the game. Soccer is still a game and it takes chutzpah and resiliency to fight and win. The Sounders showed all of this in their unbeaten streak, they came from behind and never said die. But the New England game erased a lot of that. Where went the grit? Sure we were tired, but excuses don’t buy you more chances come November.

Coach Sigi Schmid won MLS Cup in his fourth season with the Galaxy and in his third with the Columbus Crew. Granted, the league was different (easier) then, and he wasn’t starting from scratch with an expansion team. So let’s play a fun game of resetting the clock. If 2011 was Seattle’s “we’re no longer an expansion team” coming out party, than this is year four. Sigi is still on schedule to deliver the Cup his initial signing seemed to promise.

This weekend against RSL is our first quality test since New England. Let’s hope the Sounders play up to their promise.

The Seattle Reign Play Better Soccer Than the Sounders

Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd of the Western New York Flash did their marauding best to be the first to beat the Seattle Reign. But Seattle’s Jess Fishlock and Kim Little delivered brilliance and the Reign remained resolute, earning a 2-2 draw. Luckily, I was there to cheer the women on and witness a thrilling game. It was a back and forth affair featuring quality goals and late-game heroics, as the masterwork of Fishlock and Little, who is just a titan, kept the Reign’s incredible nine game unbeaten streak alive.

The two team’s featured different attacking styles. Sidereal, of Sounder at Heart, described the Flash as, “the Earthquakes of the NWSL.” The Flash’s attacking six players all towered over Seattle. They threw their bodies around and played boot and chase. Seattle stuck to their recipe of pin-point passing, possession and quality finishing. But the Reign, still missing international stars Nahomi Kawasumi and Megan Rapinoe, and reeling from their first draw against the emerging Kansas City FC, came out slow. The Flash made them pay when Wambach’s strike afforded the visitor’s the early lead. The Reign rebounded and shortly before the half Fishlock’s flying tap-in of a Stephanie Cox cross equalized the game (In fact, Cox impressed throughout. She readily joined the attack from her position as a fullback and her 1v1 defending was tight). In the second half, the Reign dominated. They played quick, attacking soccer, yet were behind after the seeming go-ahead goal was scored by Western New York off a monster set piece header from Lloyd. However, that was all preamble for Little to continue her torrid scoring pace and deliver a ice-cold strike from the top of the box late. It was impressive to see such a collection of world-class players sharing the pitch.

The Reign are an easy team to fall in love with. The above mentioned Fishlock, Little, Cox, Rapinoe and Kawasumi join Sydney Leroux, Hope Solo and Keelin Winters as absolute stars. They play fun, attacking soccer. I started watching the NWSL’s Youtube live streams and, despite the site’s many technical difficulties, I was impressed. The best soccer, regardless of gender, is being played in Seattle.  I had felt like a hypocrite. Shouldn’t a soccer loving, liberal, sensitive-new-age guy support the Reign as readily as the Sounders? But after watching the streams, I cared less about my purported politics and more about just seeing a quality, entertaining product. Seattle coach and GM Laura Harvey discussed this recently in an interview saying she wanted people to want to come, not they feel like they had to. She just earned one convert.

The Reign have yet to capture the hearts of the Emerald City. About 3,000 fans have been regularly filling Memorial Stadium, but on Sunday there was 4,000. Attendance had looked sparse on the streams, but in person feels impressive. But Seattle, Soccer City USA, can do better than 4,000.

The women’s game is at a crossroads. The current USWNT roster is chock full of charisma and quality, as much or more than in 1999. But professional leagues come and go. America has been on the vanguard of legitimizing the women’s game, but has witnessed numerous failed professional leagues. The only reason women’s soccer isn’t a run-away cultural phenomenon is because women play it. If the women’s game can’t succeed here, where can it? This current league, the NWSL is home to many excellent players and teams. Your Seattle Reign are so talented, they ought be embraced for the simple reason that excellence is worth notice.

Unfortunately, the NWSL is still fighting to its existence. The league’s existence is not guaranteed past the next Olympic/World Cup cycle. The National Soccer Federations of the USA, Canada and Mexico just found a funding model to prop up this league to keep their best players fit and in-form for the upcoming international competitions. The women’s game is such a rip-roaring success at those large competitions, but not at the club level. It seems our appetite for women’s soccer is sated twice every four years? ESPN is tentatively betting no. Just today it was announced that they signed a (very!) limited broadcast deal with the NWSL: three games in the remaining regular season and all three playoff games. Hopefully this seed investment pays dividends. If you love soccer, and hell, sport in general, go catch a Reign game. The NWSL is full of world-class players playing excellent soccer. If the women’s game can’t pick up now, when can it?

Seattle Sounders Linktacular: Calm After the Storm

I hope you all had a lovely Memorial Day Weekend.  While we barbecued and dozed, we were treated to a flurry of Seattle/soccer news: The Sounders drew the Vancouver Whitecaps in a Cascadia Cup derby, the NWSL’s Seattle Reign came back against Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash to remain unbeaten, Captain Brad Evans and Landon “Don’t call me Landycakes” Donovan were snubbed by the cunning German coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan had sweet vindication in setting the MLS goal record with 136 in a thrashing of the Philadelphia Union, and oh yeah, Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League final.

Now it is the calm before the storm. The Sounders return to practice as they prepare for a monumental clash this weekend’s with unbeaten, and #2 in the West, Real Salt Lake. It’s still early, but after getting thrashed by New England, many fans will be hungry to see the Sounders prove their mettle against a top opponent. Today Jurgen and the Nats play Azerbaijan at some rickety stadium in San Mateo County as they tune up for the World Cup, which is barely two weeks away. Enjoy this breather, everything is about to start happening.

Eternal Return: Sounder Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps

The Seattle Sounders came back for another thrilling Cascadia Cup draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’
– Friedrich Nietzsche

The parallels between Saturday’s game and April’s Portland game are many. Like the last Cascadia derby, Seattle went ahead first (from a gorgeous snap header by the emerging Chad Barrett, who just creates goals whenever he’s on the field), before falling behind (due to some asinine defensive play), and finally equalizing, again on a penalty. Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return haunts the Sounders this year from Cascadian draws to comical defensive gaffes.

Is any team more prone to pitiful collapse at the back then your Seattle Sounders? I watch a lot of MLS soccer games, but maybe not enough. The Sounders seem the most consistently boneheaded team in the league. Vancouver, like Portland, New England, Columbus and Toronto, made the Sounders repeatedly look like the Keystone Cops. Credit the Whitecap’s Erik Hurtado, who showed some skill on his goal, but why was Djimi Traore leaving his feet and crashing into Ozzie Alonso? Like Coach Sigi Schmid said, “Make him earn it.” Then there was Marco Pappa’s “clearance” back to goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Inexplicable enough, but (since we’re in Canada, I’ll use a hockey term), no worse than Frei’s “centering feed” to Gershon Koffie. Does Frei get an assist for that? Granted a backline of Leo Gonzalez, Zach Scott, Brad Evans and Jalil Anibaba is not ideal, especially playing away against a quality attacking side. However, we’ve been saying for weeks “Seattle needs to clean up their defense”, and it hasn’t happened yet.

Yes we are still getting results, but the Sounders juggernaut is slowing down. We are an aggregate 3-2 in our last three games (3-7 if you include the Revs match). An optimist will point to the grittiness of the results and the shuffled lineups, the rest of us are getting a little worried. Maybe we’re being neurotic (still top of the table and all that), but we want an MLS Cup. Is being prone to defensive mishaps just a phase this team is working through, or an inherent liability that will hinder any real silverware collection this Fall? We were exposed by a top team in New England and unbeaten Real Salt Lake will be the next test this Saturday. Both Seattle and Salt Lake are missing top players, but both teams are still a cut above. I am on the record as being nervous (and am becoming quite the prognosticator).

Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps Game Day

MLS did not schedule an early Saturday game as not to conflict with the EUFA Champions League final.I am an avowed European club soccer agnostic, but am actually tuned in to the match. Those Euro guys play okay. But the real soccer starts later today when your Seattle Sounders cross the border to continue their longstanding rivalry with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

I had written the Caps off this season. No Camilo, too much youth, and the uninspired decision to merely promote an assistant instead of bringing in a “known commodity” coach in Bob Bradley (who they conspicuously flirted with). Wow. Was I wrong. They are currently 4th in the West and at times have looked like world-beaters. Their attack is built around youth and fast, fast, fast. Darren Mattocks (currently injured), Kekutah Manneh (nightmares of his hat trick last season) and Erik Hurtado are speedsters extraordinaire. Couple that with the technical ability of Chilean international Pedro Morales and you have a helluva potent attack. Thankfully, Vancouver suffers a similar Achilles heel as Seattle in a leaky defense.

This game has the potential to be a barnburner. But I think Seattle will travel north looking to continue their clean sheet trend. I see Coach Sigi Schmid building a defense first lineup and starting Andy Rose for the injured Lamar Neagle in the midfield. Captain Brad Evans, burning for vindication,also starts. I don’t believe any of that lack of fitness crap, that is just smokescreens and mind games. He teams up with Gonzalo Pineda as Seattle protects the back and hunts the counter.

Bold Prediction: Vancouver wants to prove they belong. The Caps push and push but Seattle holds firm. The scores are back and forth, but Vancouver benefits from home form. The Cascadia Cup Rivalry continues with another draw, 2-2

Brad Evans: Classy in Surprising USMNT Cut

Most Seattle Sounders fans are already well aware that team captain and Mr. Sounder Brad Evans didn’t make the USMNT 23-man roster. Congratulations to both US team captain Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin on being selected by coach Jurgen Klinsmann to represent the Stars and Stripes this summer. I always suspected two Sounders would be in Brazil, but which two Sounders was quite the surprise. If you had imagined the different probabilities of which combination of Sounders would make the Brazil cut, it probably looked something like this:

Dempsey, Evans, Yedlin 10 %

Dempsey, Evans – 66%

Dempsey, Yedlin – 2.5%

Evans, Yedlin – .0001%

Dempsey – 25%

Evans – .01%

Yedlin – .0001%

You could’ve won big in Vegas if you predicted that Dempsey and Yedlin would be the ones representing Seattle on soccer’s biggest stage. Yedlin being selected is a surprise. I had a wee feeling that Klinsmann may include him just to blood him for 2018. But I never imagined him being selected over Evans.

This must be a major bummer to Captain Brad (though he joins august company in Landon Donovan). I’ve already espoused regret for both Obafemi Martins and Chad Marshall missing out on the World Cup, and am shocked to add Evans to that list. Though unlike Oba, Evans has never played in a World Cup. Oba and Marshall both knew for a while that they weren’t flying to Brazil. Evans’s surprising exclusion is more harsh because he only recently forced himself into the USMNT picture, through determination and stellar play, and was looking like a lock. To come so close, so rapidly and then to miss out, must be killer. Of course his tweet was also killer:

 

Thanks for being so classy in what must be a tough time. Come on back home and show Jurgen what he’s missing. You and Oba can both play your own World Cup with the Seattle Sounders. Hell, we may get some truly chip-on-the-shoulder inspired play out of Evans to complement the out-of-his-head Obafemi Martins. I am proud of Yedlin, and heart broken for Evans, but if Evans’s slight translates into, ohhh, a Supporter’s Shield or MLS Cup for the Sounders, Seattle will love him forever.

Seattle: A Dream of Soccer Nirvana

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure dome decree

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

If you were building soccer nirvana, it would look something like Century Link Field in full boom. And if you were to push your fantasy further, droves of raving fans would arrive via dirigibles, airships, or ferries. How great is it to live in a city where ferries are mundane mass transit and soccer glorified.

Last weekend, Mrs. Ravinggreen and I had escaped the internet in a cabin outside Belfair. Saturday we drove up to Bremerton and walked on the 4:20 ferry to downtown. The boat was packed with Sounders fans. Old folk fans in ball caps, young kid fans in pitch black kits. Families, friends, in all shades of green, shale, black and blue; so much Sounders swag afloat. The fans were out in droves, and I assume the 5:30 ferry was equally packed.

Walking off the boat to an early dinner in Pioneer Square, falafel at La Paloma, we followed the flow of support weaving into the city. The two couples next to us at dinner were all wearing kits and chatting about work, life and the blowout at New England. Later in Mecca, swarmed by customers at the Pro Shop, a large man in full military regalia beamed, “this is my first game.” It was awesome to see the city embrace the Sounders.

We sat up in the cheap seats, among the additional 10,000. A large South Asian family took up most of the row in front of us, a couple of matched engineer-types sat beside us, as did a father and daughter (I tried to keep my swearing to a minimum, but damn that Obafemi Martins goal). The passion isn’t the same in the upper bowl, as people don’t know the rituals, and sit for the full ninety, but it’s good to see so many families out. The Sounders are not pretentious, and are available to all comers; the team loved and welcomed by the city.

Seattle only lit the torches once. I wanted a better game for everyone, but it didn’t matter. The spectacle is all. In the ferry terminal that evening, everyone waiting for the 10:30 boat, happy, sleepy Seattleites comforted their children, teased each other and fought sleep. There was laughing and joking and the ferry came to take us home to dream.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Seattle Sounders As Cultural Phenomenon (and a few digs at Portland)

The Seattle Sounders as cultural phenomenon is a meme taking flight in anticipation of the World Cup. Most Americans are remembering that soccer is a thing, and it happens, and the Stars and States will be representing this summer in Brazil. Fittingly, as American turns her attention to soccer, she also turns her attention to Seattle.

The national media is putting the spotlight on the Emerald City. Kick TV continues its Group of Death series with a USMNT World Cup primer video hosted by Jimmy Conrad and set in Seattle. The video is great for the fair-weather USMNT fan, but even better is the all Seattle perspective. The video is shot in Seattle, Conrad interviews Sounders and Sounders fans, and thus reinforces the (true!) narrative that Seattle IS American soccer.

Seattle is again demanding the attention of the Atlantic Northeast. The venerable Gray Lady, the New York Times, recently published a travel article about the Cascadia Cup Rivalry. Seattle is mentioned, but not too glowingly. The article is a little too pro-Portland for this writer. For example:

They were hard-core soccer fans from Portland, the Timbers Army, devoted followers of the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer, jammed into the Railway Club, elbow to bent elbow, the night before the Timbers would play the Vancouver Whitecaps. Five hundred of them had made the 300-mile trip, with several hundred more to come. Most of them had arrived together, on buses stocked with kegs of Oregon craft beer, politely stowed for border crossings. Some had driven up on their own. And late in the evening pretty much all of them, holding their Timbers scarves high above their heads, began to sing along with a Portland punk cover band called Green Flag doing their altered-lyric version of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” In your head, try to imagine this in a Johnny Rotten voice.

Of course, New York continues its sordid ogling of Portland. As much as I am rankled by the idea of a Least Coast City being our national agenda setter, New York City really can tell the nation what to talk about. Bushwick hipsters are to blame for Portland’s recent 15 minute of fames as New Yorkers are, for some god-knows-why reason, enamored of that little gutter punk retirement community south of the border.

Lastly, US Soccer has released officially unofficially US Open Cup dates. The Sounders look to play either LA Galaxy II or PSA Elite sometime in June. Like I said, officially unofficial. LA2 play in the third tier of the of the USL, and PSA Elite, an amateur team, play in the same division as those lovable rascals Cal FC. It would be a major upset if PSA Elite managed to beat LA2, but we know, don’t we Timber Joey, that those amateurs are quite capable of the upset.

Battle of the Backups: Seattle Sounders beat San Jose Earthquakes

The Seattle Sounders “bounced back” on Saturday winning 1-0 against a depleted San Jose Earthquakes side.

It was an odd game in many ways. San Jose fielded a MASH unit. Not only were they missing their best starters, but they only activated 16 players, not the typically 18. Can you imagine the Seahawks flying to San Francisco without a full roster? That said, San Jose held the advantage in possession and had quality build up, but lacked quality on the final pass. Their inability to find that pass limited their scoring chances. They took just eight shots all game, and only one of those was on-goal. San Jose was plucky at times, but I’d wager Cal FC could’ve beaten these Earthquakes.

The Sounders didn’t exactly drape themselves in glory, or dispel any trauma of last week’s collapse. 50,000 fans made the pilgrimage to the XBOX Pitch on a lovely mid-May evening, and I’m a little disappointed the game wasn’t more of a show for the extra fans. Obafemi Martins scored in the 8th minute, giving Seattle a rare treat in an early lead. And yet that was only the only tally on the day. The Sounders had great scoring chances, especially late in the game, but we didn’t finish a single one. All sixteen of our chances, some fat and juicy and ripe, were missed except for Oba’s strike. That chip shot, taken at an acute angle, with a first touch at full speed had something like a .001% chance of going in. Bananas. San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch played brilliantly in stonewalling everything else (there is something about Seattle inspiring opposition goalkeeper greatness). If I was picking nits, I’d say we should’ve put more balls between the pipes to help our goal differential. Ahhhh, exhale. We got the three points and solidified our place atop the table.

The big positive take-away is that we kept a clean sheet. It was refreshing to see the new-look backline stay stout. Zach Scott again played brilliantly and was honored by the captain’s armband. Right back was the biggest question mark, as both DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans are away at USMNT camp. No one but Sigi Schmid knew who’d start the position: Michael Azira, Jalil Anibaba or Zach Scott. Azira was hyped as a right back possibility earlier in the week, but I am still haunted by his performances in the Columbus and Portland games. Thankfully Anibaba got the nod and acquitted himself well. With Chad Marshall as the one constant of the back four, we got our third clean sheet of the season. Hopefully this makes us greedy for more.

The Sounders have many hungry bench players looking at this stretch of games to prove they deserve more minutes. Kenny Cooper started up top with Oba and moved well, but didn’t distinguish himself. Chad Barrett came on for him in the 70th minute and may have

made a case to start. He completed 89% of his passes to Cooper’s 56%, and only took one less shot in less than half an hour. Andy Rose saw the pitch for the first time since Montreal, albeit for mere moments. I think Sigi just wanted to blood him a bit in preparation for more minutes down the stretch. These subs played well, as did the regular starters.

After a week’s rest, the starters who remained reminded many why they are in the eleven. Gonzalo Pineda had some turnovers, but also made brilliant plays all over the field. He was more of a creator with Dempsey and Evans off the pitch and his assist to Oba was perfectly weighted. Marco Pappa looked liked our best player at times, but disappeared for stretches of the second half. Lastly, again, that strike from Oba was insane. We’ll need more of that from our left-behind and aspiring starters if we want to get a result at red-hot Vancouver.

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